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Introduction: “Gattai Girls” is a series of posts dedicated to looking at giant robot anime featuring prominent female characters due to their relative rarity within that genre.
Here, “prominent” is primarily defined by two traits. First, the female character has to be either a main character (as opposed to a sidekick or support character), or she has to be in a role which distinguishes her. Second, the female character has to actually pilot a giant robot, preferrably the main giant robot of the series she’s in.
For example, Aim for the Top! would qualify because of Noriko (main character, pilots the most important mecha of her show), while Vision of Escaflowne would not, because Hitomi does not engage in any combat despite being a main character, nor would Full Metal Panic! because the most prominent robot pilot, Melissa Mao, is not prominent enough.
When you look at the full title of the 1990s OVA Shishunki Bishoujo Gattai Robo Z-Mind: The Battling Days of the “Shitamachi” Virgins, which is a mouthful to say the least, you get a pretty good indication of what’s in store for the 6-episode OVA. Shishunki Bishoujo Gattai Robo” literally means “Beautiful Girls in Puberty Combining Robot,” so in other words, expect pretty teenage girls piloting a big beefy robot, that peanut butter-and-chocolate combination which is at this point something of a staple in anime. And if it isn’t clear that this OVA is targeting robot fans, then note that 1) the vast majority of the robot attacks reference other anime (“Z-Boomerang” and “Z-Tomahawk” for instance), and 2) they even managed to insert a small Reideen cameo of sorts, as shown below.
Z-Mind centers around three Japanese sisters, Ayame, Renge, and Sumire, who pilot a giant robot named Z-Mind created through collaboration between the Japanese and American militaries. Together, they the Orgapiens, aliens with advanced technology who all look like creepy oversized babies. As the main heroine and leader, Ayame differentiates herself from her younger sisters by having a yamato nadeshiko-esque quality to her in contrast to her sisters’ more Western looks and fashion sense, making Ayame a character somewhere in the vein of Shinguuji Sakura from Sakura Wars.
The girls all exhibit strength and courage, and are also responsible for beating back the monsters at the end of the day, but the overall flat characterization in the series means that there isn’t much to discuss about them, other than that the desire to make Ayame more of a traditional beauty than her feistier sisters may say something about the kind of face the series wanted. Ayame is pretty inoffensive in any direction, but she suffers from the same lack of depth as the anime she’s in. Even Ayame’s love interest, a mysterious man from the future in a stylish red jacket named Kouji, is just kind of there until their relationship decides to grow abruptly, so it’s hard to say how much it affects her character.
When I finished each episode of Z-Mind, I would find myself regarding it as decent, but when I asked myself if I wanted to keep watching immediately after, the answer was definitely “no.” While this may have something to do with the fact that each episode exists somewhat independent of the others, in the end there was nothing so thrilling or compelling that I had to see the girls of Z-Mind again as soon as possible.
If I were being a little harsher, I would call the series mediocre, and if I were being a little kinder, I would say that it had potential, but I think the best way to describe Z-Mind is to say that, had it been properly released back in the 1990s in the US, I think it would have been a big hit. It’s short, it’s pretty, and while it’s sparse on characterization and development, it has enough in those categories to spark the imaginations of fans hungry to explore a fantastic world, one which sparks their imaginations and makes them thirsty for possible areas to elaborate. In this sense, I feel it would have garnered a reputation similar to Bubblegum Crisis, though one advantage it has over Bubblegum Crisis is that it actually has a conclusion instead of ending abruptly on a self-contained episode.
For Z-Mind, the character types, art style, and and overall feel of the series all come across as very much a product of their time, and Ayame too is a naturally both a part and a result of that combination. As such, Ayame winds up being a girl full of admirable qualities, but hard to categorize as anything more than a basic outline of a strong, ideal girl. Her character, and her anime, exist as one stop along the path of female heroines in robot shows.
As the final part of the generation-themed Gundam AGE begins, I’m reminded of the “Machete Order,” a way of watching the Star Wars movies which supposedly introduces all of its elements in the best ways while cutting away some of the excess. Specifically, “excess” means “Episode 1,” as the entire adventures of a very young Anakin were deemed unnecessary and even perhaps detrimental to enjoyment. While I don’t think any of the parts of Gundam AGE are awful, it does make me wonder if it’s actually possible to watch the third and fourth Gundam AGE arcs without having watched the prior two.
While it would be sad to lose characters like Woolf and young Emily, I feel like the third part introduces you enough to the returning characters that someone who got into the show right at that point wouldn’t take long to fully grasp the story, and perhaps because the ratings were so low they actually made it with this in mind. While you don’t get to see Flit go from idealistic young boy to supportive but crotchety old man, you also get to immediately see the differences between him, pirate Asemu, and noble Kio. Obviously as someone who’s already watched the previous parts I can’t simply use my own experience to judge the effectiveness of omitting the earlier parts, at least not without much scrutiny and testing on willing subjects, but I would be interested in hearing thoughts on this matter.
I’ve been enjoying Gundam AGE quite a bit since it began airing, and I think it’s a solid show (thought not without its flaws) which successfully utilizes its main premise of a battle being fought over multiple generations. The second generation hero Asemu is a far cry from his dad Flit when they were similar ages, and through hindsight it ends up highlighting what made Flit unique in the first place. As it turns out, though, Gundam AGE isn’t doing so well in the ratings, and it apparently has failed to reach the kids demographic it was trying for in the first place. At this point, it’s pretty easy to just say that the mistake was marketing to kids, that they shouldn’t have repulsed the older fanbase through the kiddier designs and the like, and that the solution is more UC (or things similar to the Universal Century stories), but I think this would be a huge mistake.
Putting aside the fact that this is not the first time that a good Gundam series has disappointed in the ratings (see Gundam X and even the original Mobile Suit Gundam) and just assuming that nothing the show does now will turn it around, the kind of risk that Sunrise took in gearing Gundam AGE towards a younger demographic is, in my opinion, the healthiest kind of failure there is. Well, if you consider it in terms of profits lost I’m sure there would be some disagreements, but what I mean by healthy failure is that they didn’t have to do this, but saw that there is a potential market from a new generation far removed from the original 1979 anime, and made a concerted effort to appeal to it. It reminds me of Sunrise’s recent hit, Tiger & Bunny, because that show was a surprise hit to even Sunrise themselves, and I have to wonder if it encouraged them to take more risks. Obviously I don’t know if AGE was in planning before or after T&B, but there seems to be this general spirit of experimentation which I’d rather not see stifled because of this setback.
When Sunrise did research into why kids weren’t getting into AGE, they arrived at the conclusion that kids these days don’t understand or know about wars and space colonies. It seems like an odd result, but assuming that this is the problem (or perhaps more accurately that modern kids don’t care about space war by default), the thing I want to point out is that there are ways to work from this information without just abandoning it entirely. If the children of Japan today are ignorant of wars and space colonies, then perhaps one of the goals of a Gundam which targets them should be to introduce those concepts as if they were entirely new. In other words, if it’s unfamiliar, make it familiar.
Perhaps an easier solution would be to just find out what the kids like and transform the premise to fit the current trends, but I don’t think the solution has to be an all-or-nothing endeavor, even if Gundam AGE may have toed the line too much. Heck, I think looking back at the previous alternate universe of G Gundam could provide some nice possibilities, not so much because of the martial arts aspect, but the premise of having Gundams from various nations each with their own special abilities, which isn’t that far off from the cast of a collectible card game/monster battle show.
Two Gundam AGE posts in a row! Why not?
I’ve been thinking for a while now about how Gundam AGE shows that it’s an anime made with younger viewers in mind. There are the more youthful-looking characters, and the choice of colors used in the show, and the toy line which tries to diversify well beyond just “model kits,” but I realized that it also handles the younger characters in a particular manner that appeals to kids a lot more than adults.
Essentially, in the world of Gundam AGE, adult treat the opinions and ideas of children as seriously as they do the words of adults. Whenever Flit or Emily or anyone else has something to say, they’re willing to listen and not patronize them, as if the kids may know something that they don’t or may have simply forgotten in the process of becoming adults. It’s a feeling that I think most people can remember from when they were kids, that maybe the adults in our lives overlooked something that we knew to be absolutely right. Kids don’t want the adults around them telling them that they’ll “understand when they’re older” or that they need to wait a few years before they can say anything of value.
Heck, teenagers don’t want them from adults, and people in their 20s don’t want that from the people older than them either. It’s probably more relatable than I first realized.
So what’s really interesting about this, then, is the fact that Gundam AGE has that generational theme, that we’ll eventually be seeing the first arc’s children turn into adults, and then see how they handle their offspring and the new ideas they offer. I can’t say for sure, but it’s almost like the show was built for this.
Ever since the original Gundam and its relatively stark look at war, the idea of the “average soldier” has been a prominent part of the franchise. Here, the lowly soldier with a photo of his loved ones back home getting stabbed through the cockpit as he screams his girlfriend’s name is a recurring image, but in reality such figures are rarely given a spotlight. Even the “everyday grunts” that comprise the titular “08th MS Team” often seem above-average. In Gundam AGE though, two characters in particular have made “averageness” a joy to watch.
The first is Largan Drace, the man who was originally meant to pilot the Gundam, but who ends up in a regular ol’ robot when Flit takes the Gundam as his own. With actual military training but no notable reputation, Largan is pretty much “just another soldier,” but the fact that he is aware of his skill level while being both humble/confident about it actually causes him to shine through at a fair level which says “I’m a side character, but I’m also important in my own way.” He’s even the person who, upon injury, suggests Flit take the Gundam in his stead in the first place. While Largan has no special abilities to speak of, nor any exceptional talents, his behavior and integrity make him an excellent representative of the average soldier.
The second is Adams Tinel, who sits in the bridge of the Diva as Navigation Officer. Loyal to the Federation and thus torn by the fact that the Diva’s captain, Grodek Ainoa, is very much a rogue and a man willing to use almost any means to achieve his goals, Adams has shown his character in contrast to Grodek on a few occasions now. From this, we know that if given a path of light or a path of darkness, he will always choose the former, such as when he informs the Federation of the Diva’s situation in fighting the enemy despite fact that Grodek is a man wanted for treason. However, his goal in doing so is not to tattle, or to show his loyalty, but because he honestly believed that trying to get the Federation’s support was the best course of action. Adams plays by the book and does so without being a wet blanket, and in a series full of characters so fully intent on achieving their goals, his sense of restraint is notable and admirable.
A common complaint with many anime characters is that they are too average and therefore too boring. Largan and Adams show however that playing by the rules and doing okay does not disqualify a character from being interesting. Instead, they show that there is a big difference between average and bland, and when it comes to both main and side characters, the approaches taken for them are valuable lessons.
After one episode, Gundam AGE has convinced me to watch it. I don’t mean that it’s done enough that I’m willing to give it another few episodes, or even that I’m going to watch because I’m aware that Sunrise mecha series tend to take about 13 episodes for the story to “really” begin. What I am saying, rather, is that just this first episode makes me want to see the show through from beginning to end. While not perfect, in my opinion Gundam AGE has an incredibly solid first episode to the extent that even if the show turns out to be awful, I can still point to the very beginning and say, “That… was an excellent introduction.”
There are multiple reasons for why I think so highly of that first episode, but probably the biggest among them is the main character himself. As a small child, Flit is shown as having suffered a tragedy at the hands of the UE, the “Unknown Enemy.” As a 14 year old, he is clearly driven by the trauma of his past, wishing to do something to not only continue his parents’ legacy (they were Mobile Suit creators) but to never let the same thing happen again. He is motivated to act to such a degree that he creates the Gundam itself. Whereas most Gundam protagonists in the past have come across their units through a quick series of twists, Flit has been actively working towards its completion for what I can only assume has been years. He is shown to be a brilliant scientific prodigy who had to grow up a little too fast, and yet is still a kid at heart. The way he tries to convince his classmates of the impending threat of the UE shows pretty much everything about him, a mix of intelligence, dedication (possibly obsession), and the feelings and thoughts of a 14 year old boy.
Flit is a character that I can get behind. He feels like he has room to grow, and at the same time already is something of an inspirational character.
And all through this, though he has experienced tragedy, he does not feel as if he is defined as a tragic character. In fact, perhaps thanks to the show’s aesthetics, from its bright color palette to its more rounded character designs, the entire show feels fun and vibrant in a way that doesn’t negate the weight of its more serious aspects. In a way, it reminds me of the first episode of Heartcatch Precure!, which also won me over immediately. Even the shot of the space colony felt more impressive to me than it has in years;I could sense the wonder that is living in a space colony, even after being a Gundam for over a decade now. A lot happens in this first episode, both in terms of growing the story and setting up a path for Flit that feels like one he has determined for himself.
I could totally start comparing this anime to older versions of Gundam. Flit, with his seeming “paranoia” and technical skill, is like an Amuro who has discovered his motivation in life at a much younger age. Emily looks like Sayla Mass and acts like Frau Bow. The kids in Flit’s class remind me of the kids from 0080: War in the Pocket. The first activation scene takes on a significantly different meaning because of how Flit created the Gundam and so knows all of its ins and outs, and it makes me recall the scene in Char’s Counterattack where Hathaway takes about the legend of Amuro and how “he knew how to pilot it as soon as he got in.” But Gundam AGE feels so fresh and energetic that I find comparing it to other Gundam series should only be seen as a fun exercise and not as a wellspring from which to initiate constant criticism. Endlessly drawing parallels to previous iterations will only make it more difficult to see what Gundam AGE does well from the very start.
Before the series began, the promotional material stressed the generational aspect of Gundam AGE and I was actually surprised to see it hardly ever discussed among the buzz. I found it to be the most intriguing and attractive part of the concept, and while it obviously has yet to fully take effect, the generational theme has already been establishes just from this episode. The concept of the “Gundam” is passed down from Flit’s parents to himself, and I can only assume he will do the same in the future. The Gundam is spoken of in almost mythological tones, a robot from long ago that saved the world and changed everything. Seeing that scene, I could only think that, in a way, the status of the Gundam in the world of AGE mirrors the legendary status of the Gundam franchise itself. I would not be surprised if the kids watching AGE see Gundam as this piece of history that they’re told is one of the most significant pieces of anime history, but feels strangely distant, like it comes from another time. By having the Gundam take this role, Gundam AGE episode 1 really does make it seem like a Gundam for a newer generation.
Also, the robots look cool.
I recorded a podcast over at the Veef Show just this past weekend with Andrew of Collection DX fame, and it is up for your listening pleasure.
We talk about a number of topics, but it mainly focuses on things like space travel, the state of anime, and philosophizing about that most sacred of subjects, mecha anime. For reference, my Code Geass post that we mention is this one.
Apologies for the background noise on my end. If you’re curious, that’s the sound of Leidens Ontzet.
So in summary, this:
I recently appeared on the Reverse Thieves‘ podcast, the Speakeasy, where we discussed the topic of recommending giant robot shows for people who have had negative experiences with that genre. If you’re not sure what that means, it is not referring to fans who have simply never seen any mecha anime and are just waiting to discover the glorious territory that is giant robots, but people who may have preconceived notions about the limitations of giant robot anime based on prior exposure.
Even though that’s the main topic however, I think there’s a little something for others as well, whether you’re a robot expert or mecha newbie. Have a listen, and make sure to comment on either the Speakeasy or the Reverse Thieves’ blog.
Gundam has undergone many changes over the years, either creating sequels or alternate timelines where new stories can be told, and every incarnation inevitably leads to some complaints that the franchise is heading in the wrong direction and that it can’t capture the magic of an older, more beloved series (often times this is considered to be Zeta Gundam). At the same time, people also complain that the series which try to play off of the old classics are too bogged down in their continuity. It seems almost impossible to fulfill all of the criteria set for a new Gundam (especially when you take into account the blame that is often placed on the fans themselves for not liking a certain series), and I think Sunrise and Bandai have realized this too. This time around, they’ve decided not to put all of their Mobile Eggs in one basket, and given everyone what they want, separately.
Gundam Unicorn, currently running, is an OVA series which acts as a direct sequel to the film Char’s Counterattack, seeks to capture those old UC fans who were never quite comfortable with the feel of later series such as Gundam W and Gundam 00, or even the later Universal Century timeline series such as Gundam F-91 and V Gundam. The character designs harken back to an 80s aesthetic and the plot itself is such that it appeals most to people who are already invested in its universe.
Gundam AGE is an all-new TV series in an entirely original universe with very modern character designs (sometimes regarded as “kiddy”), a generational motif that could potentially give it a wide appeal, and a merchandising system that is updated for the age of Pokemon and Yu-Gi-Oh! Unlike Unicorn, it requires no prior knowledge of Gundam, and seems designed to capture fans unfamiliar with the franchise.
Gundam: The Origin is an anime adaptation of a manga based on the original anime. First Gundam is unique relative to even its direct sequels ina number of ways, and it could both introduce the original beloved story to new fans as well as appeal to those people who enjoyed Gundam decades ago but never became “Gundam Fans” per se.
Given this multi-pronged assault, I have to wonder why some fans still complain in the direction Gundam is going. Never mind that Gundam AGE isn’t even out yet, I can understand why someone would look at AGE and think, “This is so not for me,” but you’re literally getting something for non-fans, something for old hardcore fans, and something somewhat in the middle. The only logic I could see behind being against this approach is that the three anime muddle the image of Gundam, compromising its overall artistic merit. I disagree with that as well.
Fans would pay through the nose to own AUTHENTIC REPLICAS OF REAL ROCKS AND PEBBLES that the characters collect.
Don’t you want to feel a little closer to Wakana? I’m sure you do. I’ve got a couple of things in my pocket to help you out.